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Celebrity Deaths

by Steven Novella, Jun 29 2009

This week saw four celebrity deaths – well, at least four that were prominent enough in the news that I heard about them: Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Billy Mays, and Michael Jackson. We pay attention to celebrity deaths because we pay attention to celebrities, and we pay attention to celebrities because they are celebrities. This is a trite answer, but essentially there is something in our culture and hard wiring that makes us fascinated with fame. Most of us will get a little weird when we are in the presence of a famous person.

Multiple celebrity deaths in such a short period of time often provokes the superstitious to engage their pattern recognition and hyperactive agency detection. This usually results in the notion that “celebrity deaths always occur in threes.” This is a classic example of open-ended criteria leading to confirmation bias.

What this skeptical jargon means is that the notion that celebrity deaths happens in sets of three is not bound by any specific criteria – who counts as a celebrity, and over what period of time do the deaths need to occur to count as happening together? If after one celebrity death you simply wait however long it takes for two more to occur, you will have confirmed the belief that the grim reaper does indeed kill celebs in spurts of three.

Also, many of you may be wondering who Billy Mays is. Everyone knows who Michael Jackson is. My daughters had no idea who Farrah Fawcett or Ed McMahon were, so I guess there is a generational factor to their fame. But when I told people that Billy Mays had died, I had to follow up with, “You know, that loud pitchman who sells Oxyclean.” If you want to hold onto your belief in the trifecta principle of celebrity demise, you could discount Billy Mays as not famous enough.

This is  a fairly mundane example of the principle of open-ended criteria, but it is a belief that most people have heard, and therefore much of the public has likely engaged (with varying degrees of seriousness) in this bit of confirmation bias. It is therefore a good everyday example of this principle. It points out why scientific experiments need to have objective and rigorously determined criteria every step of the way. Clinical studies, for example, are more reliable when their endpoints are predetermined and completely objective. Death is a good endpoint. Feeling better is not.

Another aspect of the celebrity deaths that is interesting is that many people want to use the death of a prominent person as a moral lesson. I am not claiming innocence in this either. If a celebrity dies at the hands of pseudoscience, I will happily (although tactfully) exploit their death to warn the public about the dangers of pseudoscience. I try to do this only when the story is public and unambiguous. Peter Sellers decided to have psychic surgery for his coronary artery disease, and as a result died prematurely of a heart attack. People should know that psychic surgery is a pure scam, and one that can kill.

Farrah Fawcett had anal cancer for which she received standard treatment, including chemotherapy, but also went to Germay to receive a pseudoscientific “immune boosting” nutritional treatment for her cancer. I decided not to use her as an example of the dangers of cancer quackery because she did receive standard care and I did not have the specific details to know if the alternative treatment interfered with her science-based care at all. Her case is therefore an ambiguous anecdote, not a clear cautionary tale.

I was therefore intrigued (i.e. disgusted) by this absurd commentary by “holistic” promoter Jed Shlackman. He actually argues that Farrah was being helped by the nutritional therapy and was harmed by the chemotherapy – if only she had forgone scientific treatment in favor of psuedoscience. He thinks that her story is a cautionary tale against chemotherapy. It is a sign of the times that the mainstream media will publish such dangerous rubish.

Yes, chemotherapy is an imperfect treatment, very toxic and not always successful. But we have decades of scientific research to inform us about the risks and benefits of chemotherapy (you have to consider both risks and benefits), and it has saved many lives. Alternative cancer clinics and their gurus can never produce scientific evidence to back up their claims – they are always “too busy saving people” – a lame excuse, and ethically dubious even if it were true.

Schlackman also offers us Michael Jackson as a cautionary tale about prescription medicine – when will the public finally realize that prescription drugs are dangerous. He claims that doctors push drugs to make money, a slanderous and false charge. What does appear to be the case with Michael Jackson (and I want to emphasize I can only surmise from information that has been made public) is that wealthy celebrities can easily manage to surround themselves with yes-men and enablers. Jackson appears to have become addicted to several medications, including pain medications and sedatives. Addiction is a powerful thing. Some people can only be saved by tough love, often in the form of an intervention. I get the feeling that Jackson’s inner circle was devoid of any tough love.

I have seen this situation with patients who were not celebrities, just wealthy enough to be used to being in charge and able to be self-sufficient – therefore no one had any leverage on them they could use to force them to deal with their addiction. No one but their doctors, of course, who had the leverage of the prescription pad. The standard of care is to assess patients for addictive potential and to limit the use of addictive medications as much as possible. I avoid them almost entirely – except in highly selective cases. But, unfortunately, some patients get savvy at working the system. There is no national database for prescription meds, so patients can evade detection for a time by going to different doctors, using different pharmacies, and going out of state if necessary.

Eventually their behavior is picked up and their addiction can be dealt with. But there really is no system to force patients to go in patient, get detox, or to deal with their addiction. So they can simply go entirely underground (get street drugs) or move to another state.

None of this excuses those who were possibly enabling Michael Jackson’s alleged addiction. If this turns out to be the case, investigations are appropriate. But his somewhat extreme situation is not a cautionary tale against the proper use of prescription medications. That is absurd. It is perhaps a cautionary tale about the risks of addiction and the excesses of fame and fortune.  It’s also not the first one – this is a story we have seen before from Elvis Presley to Anna Nicole Smith.

I guess we will have to get used to the fact that celebrities who live their lives in the public eye will have their deaths be a public spectacle as well. In writing this very blog post I am as guilty of that as anyone.

85 Responses to “Celebrity Deaths”

  1. LovleAnjel says:

    When MJ died my husband said something about “always comes in threes”. He said nothing when Billy Mays died. I think people just find it eerie when three long-running celebrities pass away within days, you get that whole “end of an era” feeling.

    MJ’s inner circle did try at least one intervention– and he fired them for it. He went through employees fairly quickly.

  2. Right – that is part of what I meant when I said rich people can surround themselves with enablers, because they can just fire anyone who tries to give them tough love.

  3. Mike K says:

    Good article Steve. One correction though, all deaths occur in threes… as long as that’s how you group them. :)

    I’m in the medical field and I’ve heard that crap all week. “Threes man, it’s in threeeees”. So I took pleasure pointing out that there were in fact, ‘four’ celebrity deaths that we know about in the past week. However, if you extend the allotted time we may have even more. But if we take out the time variable, and only group them by three, then we once again have that magical and prophetic number.

    • Mike – wasn’t that the exact point I made in paragraph 3? I guess I needed to be more explicit.

      • Mike K says:

        LOL. YOU don’t need to be more explicit, “I” need to read slower. :)

        Or, you could just say that your article spurred my mind to relate similar situations which caused me to go into “this one time, at band camp” mode.

  4. greg says:

    The obvious thought when Billy Mays died was, “If you call now and take this package of 3, we’ll throw in 1 more for free!”

    In the end, I was somewhat bummed by all 4 deaths. But not enough that it had any significant impact on my life or will cause any change on my life in the future.

  5. JonA says:

    Is there something special about the number 3? If there were 2 high profile deaths, is that not enough to raise people’s notice? Is 4 too high? Do people stop counting at 3, or is raising the bar to 4 too onerous?

    • greg says:

      People are made aware of the idea that ‘[famous] people die in threes’ and so when 3 people die near to each other, it reinforces the idea. However, deaths in ones and twos don’t stand out enough as ‘exceptions’ to the rule to cause people to ignore the idea of 3s.

    • AdrianIsaacs says:

      The number three does come up a few times in the Bible. Jesus was dead for three days before he rose again. Jesus was crucified with two other people, meaning that he was exectued in a group of 3. God exists in 3 parts, which comprise the Trinity. When Jesus was born, he was visited by 3 Kings from the East. There are probably more examples, but those are the only ones that come to mind at the moment.

      I found this site that talks about the spiritual significance of the number 3, too. I have only skimmed it myself, whereas I have been reading quite a bit today and my eyes are getting a bit tired.

      • Pete says:

        I’ve seen 2 things showing why 3’s have resonance to our minds

        Humor is linked to threes because a minimal joke needs 3 repeats (2 to set the pattern, and 1 to veer off into humor). Think of all the “AN X, a Y, and a Z walk into a bar….” jokes you know

        Music is linked to threes because a minimal musical motif is 3 notes (I need to find the link to Wikipedia for this) tone, offset into contrast, and return to tone.

      • Zachary says:

        A musical motif requires three notes? Listen to Mahler’s Ninth!

    • Brian says:

      I believe there is evidence that the numbers 1, 2, and 3 are neurologically “special”. Our brain seems to have a hard-wired understanding of these three numbers, whereas everything above 3 falls into a different category (“many”) that is more learned. This is presumably the reason that 1, 2, and 3 typically get special grammatical treatment in so many languages. So perhaps these numbers are more likely to figure in ideas that appeal more to emotions than the intellect — such as jokes and superstitions.

      • tmac57 says:

        3 tenors, 3 blind mice, 3 stooges, 3’s company, 3 legged race, 3 strikes, cheers,wise men, musketeers,little pigs,dog night,bean salad,men in a tub…yes, yessss, I see it all so clearly now, the answer is 3 not 42!

  6. John says:

    And then there are small town celebrities. It seems probable that some of them died this past week also. Who counts as a celebrity? It seems to me that the number of celebrities that died this past depends on who’s doing the counting.

    More reason – less superstition.
    Thanks for the post!

  7. Kari says:

    When Farrah Fawcett died and met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, he asked her if she had any last wishes before entering heaven. She replied, “I want all the children in the world to be safe.”

    St. Peter replied, “You’ll have your wish in four or five hours.”

    Evidence of supernatural causes to MJ’s death if ever their was.

  8. Bill says:

    “First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three. No more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou NOT count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.”
    – Brother Maynard

    Sorry, but SOMEbody had to do it…

  9. John Paradox says:

    Just browsing the news, one could (not that I would, except in Devil’s Advocate mode) make the argument there were TWO sets of three:
    Ed McMahon
    Farrah Fawcett
    Michael Jackson

    Billy Mays
    Gale Storm
    Fred Travalina

    Now for ‘number seven’?


  10. I swear to God, one more word about Michael Jackson and I’m heading to the roof with my rifle. (Daisy model).

    David Carradine died about three weeks ago.
    Dom DeLuise died about two months ago.
    Bea Arthur, three months ago.
    Ron Silver, four months ago.
    Paul Harvey, five months ago.
    Ricardo Montalban, six months ago.
    Eartha Kitt, seven months ago.

    And so on.

    They aren’t scored as hits because their deaths lacked the calendaric connection to other deaths, a window that seems to need to be within a week or so.

    Then the “who’s a celebrity?” fuzziness enters in. Within the same week as David Carradine’s death were the deaths of ‘famous’ musicians Koko Taylor and Sam Butera. Within a week of Dom DeLuis was Ean Evans (Lynyrd Skynyrd) and politician Jack Kemp. Within a week of Ron Silver were actress Natasha Richardson and Dan Seals (Seals & Croft).

    It would seem that to form a grouping of three, it takes more than occurence within a week of each other. If the ‘anchor’ dead celebrity’s name is big enough, allowances will be made for the relative lesser celebrity of the others, and an extension of the general within-one-week rule would be extended, if necessary. If the anchor death is not famous enough, too bad.

    In the current grouping of MJ & FF, I think Billy Mays is offered to make up for young folks’ ignorance of Ed McMahon.

    The only thing of value that emits is we have a great name for a new band, if any kids out there need one:

    The Dead Celebrities

  11. Brianne says:

    RIP Farrah. Never overshadowed in our hearts:

  12. gwen says:

    I’ve had the dubious ‘pleasure’ of caring for family members of the rich and famous (I’m a nurse). Uniformly, with the exception of ONE, pretty much the first thing out of their mouths was…”do you KNOW who I am (how important and rich I am)”. My response is usually along the lines of “You are the expert in your field, I am the expert in my field, which is why you do what you do, and you are not trying to care for your family member at home yourself”.The other one was so wonderful, it is people like him that allows me to put up with the rest!

  13. dave gamble says:

    I’d like to suggest that the term “celebrity” is a relative term, and not an absolute truth … to illustrate … I have no idea who “Ed McMahon” and “Billy Mays” are … the names mean nothing to me. Thus from my viewpoint, the set currently only contains 2 names, not four … thus I suggest, if the set needs 4 names, 2 folks who are famous to me and totally unknown to everybody else need to die to restore the balance :-)

  14. Smorg says:

    Agreeing with ya’. And re doctors and meds… I can testify that my mom, and oncologist, is always complaining about how her patients try to pressure her into prescribing more meds than necessary and how young doctors sometimes give in to avoid possible future lawsuits. It’s no win for the MDs. :oP They get dissed if the treatment was successful but unpleasant. They get dissed if the treatment was not successful.

    The ‘holistic healers’, on the other hand, are always having their cake and eating it, too. Uggghhh.

  15. MadScientist says:

    Lessons to be learned:

    Michael Jackson: Stay away from drugs that you don’t absolutely need. (Same goes for cosmetic surgery.)

    Farrah Fawcett: Medical science is your best bet for survival, but survival rates are not 100%.

    Ed McMahon: Old people die

    Billy Mays: Probably the same as Natasha Richardson – if someone suffers a traumatic blow to the head, don’t believe them if they say they’re OK – send them off to be checked for brain trauma. There are a few simple tests to check if they’re definitely not OK, but unfortunately if the tests fail that doesn’t mean they’re OK – so leave all the testing to people who specialize in such trauma patients.

    And the final lesson: people die all the time, including celebrities. As Eric Idle and company put it: You’ll see it’s all a show, leave ‘em laughing when you go, just remember that the last laugh is on you. And always look on the bright side of life (whistling).

    • tmac57 says:

      MadScientist- It looks like MAYBE the head trauma thing might have been coincidental:
      “An autopsy performed Monday showed the wall of the left ventricle of Mays’ heart and the wall of one of his arteries were enlarged.

      “The heart disease is perfectly consistent with sudden death,” said Hillsborough County Medical Examiner Vernard Adams.

      An official cause of death will be issued after toxicology and other tests are completed in eight to 10 weeks. Mays was taking prescription painkillers for hip pain, but there was no indication of drug abuse, he added.”

      There’s that old correlation / causation bugaboo again.

      • MadScientist says:

        Thanks for the update tmac57 – the guy must have had heart problems for some time. There are enzyme tests to be run etc. Hopefully the coroner comes up with a definitive result.

  16. I guess Vince of ShamWow ‘fame’ is the new King of the Pitchmen. The king is dead. Long live the king!

  17. Neal says:

    One of my Facebook friends made an interesting comment… “Everyone dies, but somehow we’re always surprised when it happens.”

  18. SionH says:

    Michael Jackson’s dead?? Wow, funny the media didn’t cover it at all… ;)

  19. Ksenija Krusevac says:

    I have never heard of the “celebrity deaths happen in threes” saying (probably because I’m halfway around the world from you, guys). When I read this article, my second thought was “damn, superstition shows up wherever you look, including the spatiotemporal distribution of deaths of influential people”. My first thought was “who are these people, besides FF and MJ?” I live in Serbia, so they are in no way celebrities around here. Were the saying “celebrities die in 3’s” true, you’d expect that precisely one Serbian (or European, for that matter) celebrity would die on that day/week. No such thing happened, as far as I know.
    As for the fascination with the number three, we had a whole lecture in high school about the prevalence of numbers 3, 7 and 9 in our folk literature, and 12 in international and ancient literature. I think it was because of some Jungian collective unconscious thing or another.

    I apologize for the spelling/grammar/syntax mistakes and hope I’ve managed to get the message across the language barrier!

    • tmac57 says:

      Ksenija Krusevac- No need for apologies, your “spelling/grammar/syntax” are much better that average as far as I can see. Thanks for your perspective.

  20. Alan Hoch says:

    I agree that patients should always be afraid of the risks of drugs, but at the same time I think a good deal of the blame for the situation goes to doctors. Not just those who will satisfy the every drug related whim of a patient, but the rest who often offer nothing but shrugs and empty indifference in the face of a patient’s pain. If someone is suffering they want a remedy, not a morality lesson from their doctor about the dangers of addiction — a lesson that can easily be interpreted as (and may actually be) little more than a lame excuse to cover the doctor’s desire to get out of there and on to the next paying customer.

    As for the idea of doctors pushing drugs for profit being “a slanderous and false charge” I don’t believe it — at least not for a healthy percentage of the doctors out there. I’ve seen too much evidence to the contrary to believe otherwise. This is both in the form of news articles and first hand experience. In one outrageous case my doctor assigned me a brand new drug that had just been pitched to him by a drug company representative IN THE NEXT ROOM!

    If nothing else when you enter a doctor’s offer and see drug company freebees everywhere — cups, clipboards, wall clocks, pencil holders, etc. — how is one reasonably expected not to suspect collusion?

    • tmac57 says:

      I generally trust Drs , but because they are also human, I think it is a good idea to research any medicine that you, or a loved one is prescribed, just in case. Of course, that research is only as good as the person’s ability to do it.

      • Warning patients about potentially addicting medications is not a ‘morality lesson’, it’s good medicine, part of the responsibility if those who prescribe them. It would be immoral not to warn patients. Addiction is not a moral affliction anyways, but that’s a whole nuther blog entry.

        As for drug reps, I’ve sat thru many a freebie lunch as part of a clinical team, and after the drug rep(s) left our psychiatrist and others would pull out independent reviews of the new meds just pitched by the drug reps and we’d have a little fun identifying the many lies of omission and commission made by the drug reps in their presentations. Who knows how many MDs simply buy the drug rep line hook, line, and sinker, but I’ve never worked with any who did. On the contrary, all those I’ve ever worked with were appropriately skeptical of sales pitches.

        I’ll probably catch some flack for this, but it seems like a lot of people want not so much a doctor, but some sort of fusion between MD and Mommy. Personally, first and foremost, i want a skilled and up-to-date medical doctor. If he or she has a good bedside manner, all the better, but that’s not high on my priority list. It’s my family’s job to love me; my MD just needs to treat me.

        [Hides behind tmac57]

      • tmac57 says:

        Good luck hiding behind me.Aren’t you about twice my size?

      • 6’6″ or 6’5″ (depending on who measures) and about 260-265 lbs (and falling, woo-hoo!). I don’t exactly have to run around in the shower to get wet like my wife (5’1″, 105 lbs). My left foot is bigger than her. So, hold your coat open wide like a flasher and maybe I’ll get by.

      • Alan Hoch says:

        No, what we need are doctor’s not always sending us implied messages that they don’t give a damn about us. For instance, it is status quo for a doctor to hurry up a visit whenever possible since the moment he walks in the door he’s losing money. A person’s medical condition may be complicated, but all too often doctors just don’t want to listen. Instead, they make snap judgments to run a slue of tests that not only make them a bunch of money, but serve as a lame substitute for real investigation. That is, rather then figuring things out they run a bunch of tests and hope the answer will pop up. Many times it does, but many times it does not.

        In such cases, the doctor has by now used up all of the easy, high profit-ratio procedures, but the patient is still suffering. What does he do? Knuckle down and get on to the difficult work of figuring out a tough case? Ha! Doctors make money only for events, not by the hour.

        Thus, the LAST thing they want is to actually spend lord knows how much time on a difficult case with research, consultations, and so forth — you know, those things with low profit ratios? Thus, it is FAR more likely that he just gives the excuse that the patient’s condition can’t be cured or, here, just take a bunch of pain pills — and then runs off to see his new payday…I mean patient.

        Either way doesn’t matter — in the end the patient is left suffering for no other reason than that the doctor prefers money over patients.

        Thankfully, not all doctors are this way — god bless them — but in my experience most are. Some will even go to unethical lengths to grab a large payday.

        For example: I had my gallbladder taken out to cure stomach pain after my doctor stated emphatically the a chances of failure were tiny. “75% of my patients enjoy complete relief and the rest some lesser measure.” Thinking I had at last found the answer I had my gallbladder out a week later.

        Only one little problem — I came out of the procedure with twice the pain, a possibility my doctor’s said was virtually impossible.

        Or did he? Suddenly his opinion of the procedure made a 180. He told me that bad results like mine were common place, and, besides, he was only hired to take out a gallbladder, not remove my pain. He never said the words “I guarantee” so how can I be mad at the result? When I reminded him what he had told me before the operation he just casually waved it off as a misunderstanding on my part. Mind you, he never challenged the facts of our previous consultation, just that I should have clearly understood that “75% cured and the rest have some relief” really meant that a small fraction had total relief, a larger fraction no improvement, and a fairly large remaining fraction — like me — have things worse. He then ended the conservation by literally staring that my pain was not his concern and that I should get out since he had decided that I shouldn’t be a patient of his anymore.

        Now, I ask you, have can anyone look at that and think something damn unethical occurred? Problem is that I’ve seen similar, if lesser, offensives all the time. For someone like me with chronic pain our system is setup to victimize, not cure. I need someone to figure out what’s wrong, but all I get is doctor after doctor who treats me as little more than a profit point.

        Quite simply, it’s been about seven times now that I’ve gone to a specialist who hits me with usually redundant tests for things we already knew or tries a new procedure that he says will help me which instead is a complete flop. And when they fail they just shrug and suggest I go to a new doctor and start the same process all over again. Meanwhile, they send me thousands and thousands in bills for medicine that UTTERLY FAILS and sometime worsens things.

        Our system is so corrupt is sickening.

        That’s not medicine; it’s victimization.

      • Actually, it’s called anecdote.

      • Alan Hoch says:

        No, it’s called evidence since I am relating first person information.

        I would prefer that if we are going to talk serious stuff people give serious answers, not glib sayings meant to derail a conversation before it begins.

      • sonic says:

        I’ve had to refuse the drugs the last two times I went to
        see my doctor. He wants me to take pain killers so I
        can play golf- I don’t want to take pain killers, I want
        my tendonitis treated.
        Luckily I found a person who helped me- doing fine now,
        without the drugs!

      • tmac57 says:

        Alan- Devils Advocate is correct. Regardless of your 1st person account, to everyone else it is anecdotal. From Merriam Webster:
        Anecdote: a usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident.
        Anecdotes do not rise to the level of scientific evidence. They are useful for areas of possible further investigation, but prove nothing in the scientific sense.

      • Max says:

        Tip of the iceberg.

      • tmac57 says:

        Wag of the fjord.

    • MadScientist says:

      The vast majority of physicians do not abuse the system. Absolutely all the physicians I’ve known personally have had a morbid hatred of those people who would dispense drugs without indication. It is also true that some doctors are far better than others; if you think you got a crappy one, look around and you may be lucky and find a fantastic one.

      My grandfather and father practiced in an era when drug companies often gave substantial samples; they thought it was fantastic because they had many poor patients and the samples allowed them to treat quite a few people without those folks spending money. I don’t know what things are like now, but back then (yeah, that’s a few decades ago) a lot of the stuff the companies gave away had useful information – posters and brochures with tips on hygiene, symptoms of common illnesses that need urgent medical attention, information on nutrition, etc. If all that has been replaced with only pencils and notepads and other gee-gaws that’s pretty sad. I don’t personally know any doctors who are sales reps of companies – but hospital management on the other hand …

  21. Mark Edward says:

    Is Michael Jackson still dead?

  22. Max says:

    Any big winners in the celebrity death pool? Psychics, astrologers?
    Anybody want to guess the next one? I got dibs on Monty Hall.

    • MadScientist says:

      Apparently Shirley Ghostman is betting on Lee Majors.

      I’m betting on all of them – but I won’t be around to collect.

  23. Ommmmmmmm. Ommmmmmmmm. We have the body!

    OK, I have divined the next trinity of dead celebrities:

    Eli Wallach
    Kirk Douglas
    Phyllis Diller

    This divination has NOTHING to do with their ages, 93, 92, and 91 respectively. Any fault, Horatio, lies not with me, but with these, um, stars.

    [And none of us will be at all surprised that there’s a website devoted to keeping track of who’s alive and who’s dead among celebrities:

  24. Jason says:

    celeb deaths in threes was written about in the washington post today:

    i wrote about the deaths in threes flawed reasoning here:

  25. Any of you celebrities out there, keep your heads low – ex-champ boxer Alex Arguello has died.

  26. BTW, this entry just screams out for a follow up – triads of celebrities we’d like to see go next.

  27. Donna Gore says:

    Okay I’m gonna get on my soapbox. My experience was with jokes. When I repeated an MJ joke, some were very offended. They said nobody should “exploit” another’s death or struggles, “have a little respect,” “respect the dead,” blah blah blah.

    So I asked some questions. Do I have to respect someone just because he’s dead? Adolf Hitler is DEAD. Jeffrey Dahmer is DEAD. No; respect is EARNED.

    So telling jokes is “exploiting” ? When you say “struggles or death” does that include any and all types of struggles/deaths? For instance, Amy Winehouse struggles with drug addiction — she’s always the butt of jokes. Is that inappropriate? MJ himself has also been the subject of jokes for years, but nobody seemed very offended until after he died. While he was alive, the jokes were okay, but now that he’s dead we’re supposed to stop telling them.

    What about those “Darwin awards” when somebody dies doing something incredibly stupid, like sticking a firecracker in their ass and lighting it? You don’t think we should make jokes about that? Is it okay to make fun of some deaths and not others? Where do you draw the line, and how do arrive at that decision?

    Of course none of them had an answer for any of my questions.

    And people are so blinded by celebrity, they excuse all sorts of strange and suspect behavior from entertainment or sports celebrities. If the man at the end of your street built a ferris wheel in his back yard, and invited kids over to spend the night, what would be your first thought? Would you let YOUR child go there?

    Nowadays, all comedians write their jokes from the headlines. That’s what they do for a living — it’s their JOB. I think comedy SHOULD be offensive. Because it’s the last bastion of truly free speech.

    When I die, I hope it’s in a way that’s comical and absurd, so that my friends get a good laugh out of it. Maybe on the toilet like Elvis did. I want them to laugh their asses off. If they shed tears, let them be tears of laughter.

    As the Indigo Girls say — “it’s only life, after all”

    • tmac57 says:

      Everyone knows that he time to mock, ridicule, and disrespect people is when they are alive. I am proud to say that I live up to this high standard.

  28. Homer Simpson gets a DWI and is sent to DWI school. He’s watching gory scare videos of the aftermath of drunk driving accidents. While the rest of the class is shocked and made nauseous by rhe film, Homer is laughing his ass off:

    “It’s funny because I don’t know them!”

    • tmac57 says:

      I believe that Homer will eventually be more widely quoted than that other ‘Homer’ ( he was soooo 9th century). Assuming that he existed at all.

  29. Max says:

    Whoa, MJ’s nurse said he pleaded for propofol to help him sleep. Who uses a general anesthetic as a sleep aid?
    I was going to joke that he may as well have asked for a horse tranquilizer, but apparently people abuse those too.

  30. I’ve never been an MJ fan. Never really acknowledged his existence. The first I heard of his death was at the gym when a PT mentioned he was dead. I responded with “Ok, so, not like I care or ever listened to his music…but…whoa”

    I think it’s fair to say, in my opinion, the majority of people had a “whoa” moment when they first heard of his death. Even if only for a split second like I did.

    • tmac57 says:

      I’m not usually very shocked when someone who has had such a downward spiral of self destruction like MJ dying “unexpectedly”.
      I wasn’t very surprised when Elvis died either.

  31. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    Don’t forget about David Caradine. That makes 5 celebrity deaths in a short time span. Another one will be needed to complete 2 death pool trilogies. Any takers?

    I am told that Farah refused surgery initially for the rectal carcinoma because she did not want to have a colostomy bag. Perhaps (maybe, possibly perhaps) she would not have turned to woo-woo because she would have been ok had she accepted this.

    • tmac57 says:

      Steve LaTreal McNair (February 14, 1973 – July 4, 2009)[1], nicknamed Air McNair, was an American football quarterback, best known for his years with the Tennessee Titans.

  32. Ryan Quick says:

    John Ritter died the day Johnny Cash died. Farrah Fawcett died the day Michael Jackson died. Clearly, when a music legend dies, a 70s TV star dies as well.

  33. It is very clear that celebrity deaths follow certain patterns except when they don’t.

  34. Mal says:

    Very well said.

    I thought of another one – Buddy Holly, Ritche Valens, Big Bopper – they died in threes! ;-)

  35. Oscar Meyer…. DEAD.


  36. And in an amazing coincidence, hot dog king Oscar Mayer died yesterday too.

  37. Jeshua says:

    We all take note of celebrity deaths because they remind us that we too will someday go the same route. The last celebrity death that really affected me deeply, however, was John Lennon. I think he still had a lot more good music to offer the world and his death seemed so senseless. Younger artists such as the Jonas Brothers are still learning from and copying the Beatles.

    BTW, I don’t know why someone listed Jim Carrey as one the celebrities they’d like to see go next. His movies have not always hit the mark, but when they do they’re great entertainment.

    I would have put Chuck Norris in the list because of his crazy religious views, but at the same time i was a great Walker fan. People are complicated. Even Oprah has her good points (great advice on diet and exercise). And MJ (though i’m not a great fan of his music) was a real innovator b4 he went totally off the deep end.

    Just don’t tell me Homer Simpson will be the next to go. In spite of his many and obvious flaws he is still one of my heroes!

  38. Donna Gore says:


    A man has died after falling into a vat of hot chocolate at a factory in the US state of New Jersey

  39. steve says:

    R.I.P Bill Cosby

  40. Neal says:

    Oh, great, not only are the psychics jumping on the celebrity death train, but CNN is reporting on Michael Jackson’s “numerology” without a mention of dissenting opinions.